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How to Build Trust in the Math Classroom

By Jessie Boyce

When you think of the traditional math classroom, what do you picture? Think back to your own experiences…

You probably have some terrifying memory. There was a point in time when we refused to raise our hands to share. We were afraid that our answers would be wrong, and we didn’t want to look foolish. In math class it seemed like the teacher could say “GOTCHA!” suddenly to prove that we didn’t know the material. Why was this the case? Why has this translated into the classroom today?

Don’t we owe it to our students to eliminate this type of environment? Students need to feel safe. They need to know they are able to make mistakes. Fostering a culture of trust in the classroom takes time and care, but the reward is unparalleled. There are a few important pieces to this puzzle.

Relationships above all else

First and foremost, students need to know they are loved. We all need this. There is a saying: “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s cheesy, sure, but it is absolutely accurate.

Students need to feel a sense of security and comfort in the classroom in order to learn. It is important to take the time to get to know each of your students. This can be as simple as asking small questions on a daily basis in order to know more about who your students are as individuals.

This will help you better serve them in the long run because you will know your students’ specific needs and wants. This can look like showing up to their sporting events or eating lunch with them, but it does not have to be that large scale. It can be looking them in the eyes, and hearing them when they talk.

Aristotle said it best: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

A growth mindset for all

At this point in education, most of us are probably familiar with the works of Carol Dweck and a growth mindset. The basic premise is that your brain is a muscle that can grow and develop, just like any other.

For decades, we have described students as math people or not-math people. Research now shows this is not the case. We have created a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling ourselves that we are not good at something. Now, everything has changed. If you want to be a math person, become one!

Having a growth mindset is just as important for educators as it is for students. This behavior needs to be modeled for students. They need to know it is acceptable to fail because that’s where the most learning and growth takes place. Fostering an environment that encourages a growth mindset allows students to take risks, especially in the math classroom. The classroom is no longer scary.

The power of reflection

We grow best from looking back. Just as a growth mindset is important, reflection is vital. Often teachers don’t reflect on their practice, but simply move to the next task.

Taking the time to reflect and improve allows for better teaching. This behavior must be modeled for students so they learn how to reflect as well. This skill enables students to become critical thinkers.

A daily, weekly, monthly reflection is a perfect way to incorporate this into the classroom. It can be as infrequent or frequent as you’d like. These reflections will build on a skill that is crucial as students grow.

Jessie has been teaching for ten years, and currently teaches sixth grade mathematics in a 1-to-1 magnet program. She is Pinellas County’s 2018 Outstanding Educator of the Year. She presents regularly at conferences on a variety of topics, ranging from learning space design to personalized learning or Microsoft products.